“I sleep around. Usually with animals,” Kelly Hayes-Raitt jokes in the opening of her book How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva. From housesits in countries Hayes-Raitt has never heard of to sitting in her hometown, “I’ve been travelling and housesitting full-time for 12 years straight – until last month”, she writes in her latest blog for Housesit Match on how housesitting helped me…
Housesitting as a means of travel
Housesitting is often described as an opportunity to explore exotic locales. And it is …and I did! I’ve pampered pets throughout Africa and Asia, on an island in the Indian Ocean…and Ya’an, a little village in China where no one spoke English.
I housesat in my hometown so I could visit relatives without being underfoot. When my own home in Santa Monica, California, was rented out (my main source of income for many years), I housesat for a neighbour down the street. While I picked up my mail and handled other domestic tasks. I often took repeat housesits to help out friends who needed to travel.
Housesitting as a travelling writer
A few times, I housesat so I could cover a story. For example, when I was reporting on the 70th commemorations of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I stayed in Osaka in a flat I could leave overnight.
During the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, I housesat in Berlin to interview refugees.
Or, I found a story while housesitting. During a Kuala Lumpur housesit, I bumped into a women’s protest and wrote about a controversial court case that redefined sexual assault. And a recurring housesit in Ajijic,
Mexico, allowed me to interview an author who wrote about America’s first – and widely decorated – all-Mexican-American WWII infantry unit.
Most recently, I was offered a long-term housesit as a stable home during the pandemic. So, through the years, I’ve housesat for a variety of reasons.
But I’d begun to feel like I wanted to “settle” down again – this time in Europe. I’d lined up a series of housesits for the summer of 2020 to explore cities and countries I had researched as potential new homes. Of course, those all dried up as the world shut down.
Choosing to “settle” down in a new country
After extensive online research, I decided on Lisbon as my potential future home – and set about scheduling housesits in Portugal, so I could visit different communities. During one housesit, I found what would become my new flat and negotiated the lease. It was such an advantage to be in the country during this process – my housesits made it affordable and convenient.
Getting visa ready
Portugal’s residency visa requirements begin in one’s home country. So I headed back to California, new lease in hand, and scheduled my appointment to submit my application and paperwork. Since the agency is in San Francisco, I took two back-to-back housesitting assignments there. I wanted to be rested for my appointment and be available to return the following week if needed. Again, housesitting made this process affordable and more convenient – and I had some lovely, loving pets to distract me from the nerve-wracking process of applying for permission to relocate to a new country.
Then the wait began. Typically, it takes anywhere from five to 15 weeks to get the preliminary residency visa stamped in one’s passport. I didn’t want to schedule any new housesits “down the road” since I wanted to return to Lisbon as soon as possible after getting my visa. But I felt secure scheduling an immediate sitting assignment in Chicago to visit friends.
Overall, I packed and unpacked 33 times in seven months while moving between friends’ homes and housesits before finally jetting off to my new flat in Lisbon!
Housesitting as a transition to new lifestyle
Now that I’m here, I’m busy furnishing an empty flat from scratch.
On my first morning, I went into my new kitchen for coffee and unpacked the accoutrements I carry with me when I housesit: My plastic cone, filters, and coffee, of course. Then I realised I had no mug! Or a way to boil water! I truly have been spoiled by housesitting.
I was overjoyed when I saw a 17-day housesit posted in another Lisbon neighbourhood by a homeowner who had been let down and was scrambling last-minute. Since I was here, I met her and her loveable dog in person before she left. This was her first time engaging a housesitter who was a stranger, so that meeting was crucial.
That housesit was a two-and-a-half-week reprieve from my mug-less flat with the air mattress on the floor. I felt less frenzied about buying furniture, which gave me time to slow down and consider what I really wanted. When the homeowner returned, I’d found beautiful secondhand butter-cream leather sofas and a fabulous dining table made of recycled wood.
(And did I mention the homeowners had Netflix, a great dog and cat who nestled with me every night? And really cool coffee mugs? The homeowner, herself new to the area, gave me fabulous insider shopping tips, too.)
Exploring the new location
Walking the dog every day allowed me to fully explore a different neighbourhood. I kept bumping into other dog owners and eventually met up with one couple for wine. It was a lovely conversation and opportunity for me to learn more insider tricks – like where to buy discounted Portuguese pottery coffee mugs!
Now that I’m back in my flat, comfortably perched on my new sofa, I’m hoping to manifest a housesit in Porto or Braga. About four hours north of Lisbon, in August when I need to meet in person with the Portuguese border control agency that will issue my two-year residency visa. I could go up the day before, spend the night in a hotel and return that day. But I’d rather housesit and get an insider view of a new city – and make a new fur-friend.
Even though I’m “settling” down, I intend to continue housesitting as a way to explore my new city, country – and all of Europe. Now that I’m based on this side of the Atlantic, I can accept shorter assignments in cities I’ve wanted to explore without the long, expensive plane ride. I can housesit in other Lisboa neighbourhoods to expand my knowledge – and friendship base!
9 tips learned while housesitting during my relocation
1. Be creative! Housesitting is more than an opportunity to “scout” new neighbourhoods and communities. It’s a way to cut down on the costs and logistics of an international move. Remodel of the new home running behind? Shipment of belongings delayed? Housesit in the interim!
2. Learn from every aspect of the housesit. Look at the homeowner’s décor and furnishings and ask for resources. Test new cleaning products. Meet neighbours and plumb their tips.
3. Incorporate housesitting into every aspect of your relocation – from being in proximity for your visa appointments to easing your way into your new country.
4. Give yourself a break. Moving to another country is stressful, exciting, and logistics-heavy on many levels. Housesitting provides a chance to catch your breath, live in a comfortable home and cuddle lovely pets. Plus, you can enjoy everyday amenities (like Netflix!) that you may not have established yet. Back in my semi-furnished flat, I’m still pinching myself. Yet, I am looking forward to a two-night repeat housesitting respite in Óbidos, an hour from here, where I can unplug from the myriad details of establishing a new home.
5. Meet other expats. While you will likely meet a lot of expats online, nothing beats personal interactions and shared experiences. Housesitting provides a unique opportunity to meet other expats through your homeowners and their neighbours. Network as much as you can and ask a ton of questions. We all want to help each other! Conversely, meet as many locals as you can. Make routines. Visit the same morning coffee shop to befriend the staff and other regulars.
6. Chat them up about neighbourhood trends, economic issues and places where the locals shop. Housesitting helps create these routines – especially if you are walking a dog.
7. Research Facebook groups. I joined “Expats with Dogs and Cats in Lisbon” group and have made new human and four-legged friends.
8. Take advantage of your time with ride-share drivers. In Portugal, Bolt is popular, but Uber is available, too. I’ve gained valuable insights from these drivers, often fellow expats. One driver gave me a list of places to search for furniture. Another driver – who wasn’t familiar with housesitters – might have me care for his dogs.
9. Ask about sales. Initially, I felt uncomfortable asking salespeople about when their wares would be on sale. But they were surprisingly forthcoming. This has nothing to do with housesitting; just a good tip I learned. And it might even get me some great coffee mugs!
As housesitting continues to open my life to new experiences, I remain grateful to HouseSitMatch!
Kelly Hayes-Raitt still sleeps around – but a bit closer to home these days, as she settles into her new home in Lisbon, Portugal. She continues editing authors’ books and writing about her travels and housesitting adventures for various websites.
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Useful blogs for homeowners and housesitters
At Housesitmatch.com we like to share useful blogs and practical advice about housesitters, housesitting and pet sitting. We hope you find this small selection of our blogs on successful housesitting useful.